Cox's Navy by Tony Booth

benjidog
7th June 2008, 17:52
Cox's Navy - Salvaging the German High Seas Fleet at Scapa Flow 1924-1931
Author: Tony Booth
Publisher: Pen & Sword Maritime
ISBN:1 84415 181 6

When I was at school in NW London in the 1960s, I took a holiday job at Cox and Danks scrap metal dealers - Scapa House in Acton. I had absolutely no idea about the history of the company or how the building got its name. I was operating a weighbridge and trying to avoid getting mugged by the "Steptoe and Son" dealers bringing in their goods - part of the job was to surreptitiously reduce the net weight of their loads to make up for the crap they hid amongst the scrap metal - and arranging lorries to transport the scrap metal to steel works and other places.

This book is the story of Ernest Cox who started the company.

At the end of WW1 the German Fleet was escorted to Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands whilst the allies argued the toss over who should get what as part of "war reparations". France and Italy thought they should get the lion's share but Britain wanted to split up the spoils on the basis of who had lost the most ships (which meant more for Britain!). Germany of course was not exactly delighted with the reparation claims and subsequent events lead most people to believe that with hindsight reparations was not one of our best ideas - but I digress.

The decision was taken out of their hands when the senior German Officer with the impounded fleet, Rear Admiral Ludwig von Reuter, believing that the whole fleet was going to be handed over, gave the order to scuttle the entire fleet. The crews sent the whole lot to the bottom - there was no chance for the tiny number of RN ships and crew to do anything about it. The Germans got over the lack of communications between ships by having the RN obligingly and unwittingly deliver letters from von Reuter to all the impounded ships with other mail. He was later able to synchronise the scuttling by simple signalling - all the ships went down simultaneously.

The British authorities did not believe the scuttled ships could be salvaged - enter Mr. Cox, a scrap merchant from Wolverhampton, who despite having never salvaged a ship in his life, eventually took on the task of salvaging the entire German Fleet.

The book tells of Cox's determination and stubbornness which led to the successful recovery of over 200,000 tons of shipping. In the process of doing this he developed new salvage techniques, setting salvage records that in at least one case (the recovery of Hindenburg - the biggest and deepest in history) has not been beaten to date. The early successes involved literally hoisting vessels from the bottom using hand-powered winches.

Booth's excellently written book with helpful photos makes a fascinating read and tells of life how it was before "elf and safety" was on the scene. There were injuries and deaths but Cox seems to have done all he could to protect his workers.

My thanks to Tonga for bringing this excellent book to my attention!

Regards,

Brian

non descript
9th June 2008, 15:02
Brian, a great review and comment on a similarly fine book. (Thumb)

non descript
9th June 2008, 15:08
I was operating a weighbridge and trying to avoid getting mugged by the "Steptoe and Son" dealers bringing in their goods - part of the job was to surreptitiously reduce the net weight of their loads to make up for the crap they hid amongst the scrap metal - and arranging lorries to transport the scrap metal to steel works and other places.


I am not the fastest at this maths thing, but the most obvious way seems to have lined up several of your mates to help "check the vehicle" on its outward journey and stand on the weighbridge as it was weighed out? - I am working on the basis that Steptoe was being paid to bring scrap IN to the yard and was weighed IN as loaded and weighed OUT as light?

benjidog
9th June 2008, 23:05
I am not the fastest at this maths thing, but the most obvious way seems to have lined up several of your mates to help "check the vehicle" on its outward journey and stand on the weighbridge as it was weighed out? - I am working on the basis that Steptoe was being paid to bring scrap IN to the yard and was weighed IN as loaded and weighed OUT as light?

It was nowhere near as subtle as that Mark! The aim was to distract the totters by talking to them as you took the weight on the way in, and surreptitiously sliding the brass weight along the scale by about 0.5 to 0.75 cwt by slight of hand just before stamping the card with the gross weight. I was fortunately behind a locked door and if you saw some of those blokes you would know why I was pleased that was the case. Some of them would not need oxy-acetylene cutters to break up the scrap - bare hands would have been more than enough! But they had plenty of animal cunning and would watch you like a hawk.

Of course the honest thing to do would be to reduce the amount paid for the scrap to take the expected percentage of crap into account but I guess that would have taken the fun out of the game. I wouldn't mind betting that this practice was started off by Cox many years in the past - it has his stamp on it. :)

Regards,

Brian